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The Social Issue Docs Talk About Life After Sundance

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire February 10, 2012 at 12:30PM

Sundance has a reputation for showing docs that hope to change the world, but while many of this year's social issue docs were audience favorites, most of have not hammered out distribution plans. Here's the look of where the films stand post-Sundance:
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The Invisible War

Sundance has a reputation for showing docs that hope to change the world, but while many of this year's social issue docs were audience favorites, most of have not hammered out distribution plans. Here's the look of where the films stand post-Sundance:

"The Invisible War"

What's it about?  The Sundance U.S. Doc Audience Award-winner explores the ways that widespread rape of soldiers in the U.S. armed forces is allowed to persist and go by unnoticed because of institutional structures that lead to coverups and silencing.

What happens now?  After the film's world premiere at this year's Sundance, director Kirby Dick said that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is interested in seeing the film.  Dick also mentioned that he would like to screen the film at the Pentagon.  The film has already developed ties to organizations for women in the military and women veterans.

"The House I Live In"

What's it about?  Eugene Jarecki takes on the War on Drugs for being a complete failure in his new film "The House I Live In," which received the U.S.  Heading across America to explore the law-and-order mentality that has caused the proliferation of unfair sentencing statutes and mass incarceration, Jarecki also profiles the work of many who are hoping to turn the tide in legal approaches to drug addiction and prosecution.

What happens now?  The film will be screened on PBS, where its persuasive arguments against steep sentencing for nonviolent, drug-related rimes hopes to reach a wider audience.

"ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare"

What's it about?  Matthew Heineman & Susan Froemke's interrogation of U.S. health care takes the system to task for relying on technologically advanced, expensive procedures and drugs that are only used as last resorts.  The film provides a number of solutions for approaches to health care that would provide better overall health strategies for patients.  Currently, even though patient consultations that encourage lifestyle changes would save lives and healthcare costs, doctors cannot sustain themselves with the healthcare payments provided for these services.  Being proactive and wholistic are the key to a reformed healthcare system according to "ESCAPE FIRE."  "At every screening, we were surrounded by patients talking about how they were affected by the healthcare system," Heineman recalled of his Sundance screenings.  "When making this film, we tried to find characters and storylines that shed a different light on healthcare, people on different sides of the aisle.  When we screened it for them, these people who spent decades fixing healthcare, they said this film could raise more awareness than they could through their whole career." 

What happens now?  "There's so much misunderstanding and fear around the topic of healthcare.  We didn't want people to walk away shaking their heads and depressed, saying 'This is fucked up!'"  Heineman and Froemke are searching for traditional distributors now, but Heineman told Indiewire, "We want to get this film in every medical school, hospital, community health center and VA hospital across the country.  We have a core audience that we want to tap as soon as possible.  I can't tell you the number of people who have asked how they can get this to their hospital, patients, and friends.  We have a huge grassroots effort ready to get this into the tentacles of the healthcare system.  This issue affects you whether you like it or not."

"Finding North"

What's it about?  "Finding North" hopes to make an issue that is invisible to those it does not directly affect to light.  Lori Silverbush & Kristi Jacobson have made a film about the epidemic of hunger in low-income communities and families across the U.S.  

"I work a lot with at-risk kids, and this girl I was working with had gotten a rough deal educationally," Silverbush said. "I helped her get into a really great private school, and in doing so, I helped make her hungrier.  The private school didn't have a free breakfast and lunch program.  We found ways to get her fed, but the problem didn't go away and I became more aware of it." 

Jacobson added, "We had the experience [of being ignorant of the issue] once ourselves.  Ever since we had that discovery, it's so apparent to us, we've forgotten how hidden it is.  The audience was really surprised."

What happens now? "It was really encouraging for us to hear, 'I need to be a part of this; I need to get involved," Jacobson told Indiewire about the film's Sundance screenings. "Just like we were inspired by the 1968 CBS documentary about hunger, we hope to make that same change." 

"This is affecting millions and millions of people," Silverbush said. "Forty-four million Americans are on food stamps." The filmmakers have teamed with Participant on their production and outreach, and they will be engaging audiences all over the country when the film gets released. 

"We're Not Broke"

What's it about?  As the American middle and working classes beg legislators to reduce their tax burden, the world's US-based multinational corporations are finding any loophole available to avoid paying taxes themselves.  Following a proto-Occupy movement called US Uncut and talking to various economic experts, filmmakers Karin Hayes and Victoria Bruce lay out the problem and what demands we can make to our legislators to help close these loopholes. 

Speaking about their Sundance screenings, Bruce told Indiewire, "There was a woman from Salt Lake City who told us she was so furious, 'I'm a Repuclican and I had no idea this was going on.'  Karin and I knew there would be a lot of people who didn't know, because we didn't know until recently."

What happens now?  The filmmakers think this film can have much more impact in an era where citizens are much more conscious of corporate takeover.  They have been contacted by Senator Carl Levin's (D-MI) office, which hopes the film can be persuasive in helping gain popular support for the Stop Tax Havens Abuse Act.  They hope to make a point to show the film to small business chambers of commerce, because as Hayes says, "Small business people have a huge disadvantage against multinationals.  They can't game the system in the same way.  This is important, because small businesses are creating the majority of jobs in the country."  "We're Not Broke" is currently working on its distribution deals.

Occupy Sundance

What's it about?  Filmmaker Tim Schwartz spent much of last fall going to Occupy Wall Street to document events at Zucotti Park.  When it was time for this year's Sundance, Schwartz decided that the indie film world could use a reminder of the ways that corporate interests have even infiltrated their indie film haven in the mountains.  After posting a blog entry on the Slamdance website encouraging filmmakers to turn down their invitations to Sundance, Schwartz targeted "We're Not Broke" for showing up at a festival underwritten by the same corporations that paid no taxes.  Schwartz assembled a motley crew of friends who didn't know each other to help him publicize the cause at the festival, and the team also screened films documenting various Occupy movements.  Schwartz told Indiewire that the weather put a damper on attendance but that the conversation amongst those that showed up was robust.

What happens now?  Schwartz and his friends will be taking their Occupy Sundance program across the country in an RV, and they'll be turning their "disposable film festival" into an "interactive reality TV show."

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit, Sundance Film Festival, ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, We're Not Broke, Finding North, The Invisible War, The House I Live In, Documentary







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